From the Director

Rex

 

 

 

by Rex Parker, Phd director@princetonastronomy.org

Video Astronomy for AAAP Members
Many of us have had the experience of showing the planets, sun, and deep sky to the public using telescopes. Children and adults alike can be inspired by a telescope, but just as often nowadays can be put off by bland washed out “flashlight in the fog” views, as sky conditions succumb to the scourge of skyglow and light pollution. When I first started in AAAP in the mid-90’s with a Celestron-8 and the club’s 12.5” Newtonian, I found nearly all of the Messier Objects using glass eyepieces and “star-hopping” methods, pushing the scope around the sky by hand. As light pollution and skyglow worsened in our area over the years the Messiers faded badly in the eyepiece.

The difficulty in seeing objects today in an eyepiece makes visually sharing the night sky risky at times. It can have the unintended consequence of disappointing people, especially those new to telescopes. The last thing we want to do is dissuade kids from pursuing astronomy and making a connection with nature and the sciences. Ironically the availability of Hubble images on the internet feeds into this tendency towards disillusionment with actual views of the deep sky in central NJ. For amateur astronomers, technology is the best way forward. It’s the only way to overcome lost sky contrast in locations like ours. Importantly, the new technologies mean that you don’t need to initially know or learn as much about astronomy to do meaningful observing as was needed even 10 years ago. Automated portable mounts with precise “go-to” capabilities, and planetarium program databases on laptops and mobile devices enable deep sky objects to be found and tracked accurately despite the inability to see them through an eyepiece. The newer generation of CCD- and CMOS-based astronomy cameras with high download rates and great sensitivity enables objects that are literally invisible in the eyepiece to emerge brightly in near-real time on laptop or monitor.

So we continue to upgrade our astronomical equipment at the AAAP Observatory. It’s my hope that the improvements will enable more members to develop observing skills. The equipment is there for members to use. The learning curve for the new equipment is not steep, thanks to much improved new software that less experienced amateurs will appreciate. The club is here to help members get the most out astronomy. Stay tuned for more specific plans which we’ll discuss at the Jan and Feb meetings at Peyton Hall, and keep an eye on Sidereal Times, the website Calendar, and e-mail messages this winter.

Solstice and the Length of a Night
I’m excited to help kick off the New Year in astronomy as AAAP convenes again at Peyton Hall January 14. During the presentation our focus will return to the sun, appropriately enough since we recently celebrated the winter solstice. On Dec 21 the sun reached its lowest noon altitude and we formally began winter season in the northern hemisphere (but where is the snow, you ask?). Solstice gave us the shortest day and longest night of the year with sunset locally at 4:36 pm and sunrise at 7:19 am on Dec 21 here in central NJ. But surprisingly this day did not provide the earliest sunset nor the latest sunrise times. This seeming paradox needs explaining.

The standard time system is based only approximately on solar days and more exactly on clocks. Clocks are based on 24.00 hour days, while a solar day (the period between solar transits) varies and is seldom 24.00 hours. The exact relationship between solar and clock time can be calculated with ephemerides software. Of several good programs out there, the one I use is the software developed by the US Naval Observatory’s Astronomical Applications Dept. The “Multi-year Interactive Computer Almanac” (MICA, v 2.2.2) program is available at modest cost from Willman-Bell, https://www.willbell.com/almanacs/almanac_mica.htm. MICA can calculate positions and timings of all the relevant planetary and solar events. Using MICA I determined the times of sunrise, sunset, and the length of night for central NJ for each date over one year. The data plotted in Excel (Figure below) show that the latest sunrises (the few days around Jan 4) come later, and the earliest sunsets (the few days around Dec 7) come earlier, compared to the longest night of the winter on solstice Dec 21. The discrepancy between solar time and clock time is often referred to as the equation of time, which can also be represented as the analemma with which astronomers and navigators may be familiar. Here “equation” really means “reconcile a difference” rather than a mathematical equation such as we’re familiar with.

Sun Data Plot 2019

Visitor from another Star
At the December meeting I showed an image and video (below) of the interstellar comet, 2I/Borisov, the first ever discovered. The comet is very faint and small, but the finding is quite exciting considering it means that material from another star has entered our solar system directly and came within ~180 million miles (2AU) of earth. No reports of telescopic visual sighting of this comet have emerged, but amateur observations have been made with relatively large telescopes using CCD cameras. To make the video below, I used a Skynet telescope, PROMPT8. This is a 0.6 meter diameter, 4.1 meter focal length meter telescope with CCD camera located at CTIO Observatory in Chile. The video is made from 17 consecutive 2 minute subframes, so it shows movement of the comet over 34 min. In that time the comet moved about 1.4 arcmin compared to the stars in the field. The still image shows the same set of images stacked and centered on the comet so that the stars trail as a series of points.

Comet Borisov at 3:30am on Dec 10 2019, taken over a 34 minute period. Image and video by RAParker using the PROMPT8 telescope with UNC’s Skynet.


Seeking co-editor for Sidereal Times
We have an opportunity for a new co-editor of Sidereal Times, the official monthly publication of AAAP. The co-editor role is to organize and edit member submissions and do layout using WordPress software for uploading to the website. Experience with WordPress is helpful but not necessary. We’re looking for a member who has an affinity for writing, with creativity and a willingness to contribute to others’ knowledge while gaining internet editing experience. If interested please respond to editors@princetonastronomy.org or director@princetonastrony.org.

Posted in January 2020, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

From the Program Chair

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

Hope you and your families had a happy holiday season!

Featured Speaker The January meeting of the AAAP will be held on the 14th at 7:30 PM in the auditorium of Peyton Hall on the Princeton University campus. The talk is Eying the Sun: Our Nearest Star by Bin Chen Associate Professor of Physics at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Our nearest star, the Sun, is not as benign as it may appear. The tangled and dynamic magnetic field in the Sun’s atmosphere produces many fascinating phenomena, which include massive solar flares and coronal mass ejections that influence the space environment, known as “space weather”. In this talk, Dr. Chen will give a brief overview of our unresting Sun and the related space weather impacts. Selected recent advances in understanding solar flares and coronal mass ejections will be presented.

Dr. Bin Chen is Associate Professor in Physics at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Prior to that, he held an appointment as an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and as a postdoctoral fellow at NJIT. He obtained a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Virginia in 2013. He received the NSF CAREER Award in 2017 and the NASA Living-with-the-Star Jack Eddy Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2013. Chen’s research focuses on solar high-energy phenomena associated with explosive events such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections by using radio and multi-wavelength observations. He is a core member of NJIT’s solar-dedicated radio observatory: the Expanded Owens Valley Solar Array. He also utilizes some of the world’s premier general-purpose radio facilities including the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (JVLA) and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) for solar studies.

10-Minute Member Talk After the break Bob Vanderbei will share some of his images from the recent November 11 Mercury transit. If you’re interested in giving a future 10 minute talk please either email me at program@princetonastonomy.org or speak with me during an upcoming meeting.

Meet-the-Speaker Dinner There will be a meet the speaker dinner at 6 PM at Winberie’s in Palmer Square prior to the meeting. If you are interested in attending please email me by noon on January 14 at program@princetonastonomy.org.

February’s Speaker We’ve scheduled a talk on the Parker Solar Probe for the February meeting.. The speaker will be David McComas, Vice President of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Please help spread the word about this upcoming talk!

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Minutes of the December 10, 2019 AAAP General Meeting

by John Miller, Secretary

● Director Rex Parker opened the meeting, 7:30PM. He reviewed several current items on the club’s agenda (Space X satellite petition; newly-purchased equipment and the upcoming field trip to the Info Age Learning Center – Wall Township, NJ

● Ira Polans introduced guest speaker, post doc, Patrick Crumley. Crumley’s topic reviewed the discovery, history and current research of GRBs. There were approximately 55 attendees.

● Member John Church gave a short presentation on a space scale model.

● Rex brought the newly-purchased iOptron AZ mount to show members. The purpose of the acquisition is to have the mount coupled with a 5” refractor for the WC observatory as well as use with field outreach.

● There was detailed discussion about possible stabilization of the WC observatory pillars (contractors, insurance, park officials). Concerns included contractor availability, labor and equipment costs and design options.

● Michael Mitrano, Treasurer reported a current treasury balance of $16,945.00.

● Secretary John Miller revisited the need for the meeting leader to ask if new members are in the audience. The suggestion was to make this SOP for each meeting, during the general meeting, so newcomers feel more included and existing members get to know who those new people are.

● Observatory Chair, David Skitt, mentioned that the Bear Tavern Rd. gate is now locked (AAAP lock). Contact David Skitt or Rex Parker for gate opening procedure.

● The meeting adjourned about 10 P.M.

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Sharing the Sky, January—March 2020

by Jeffrey Pinyan

In an effort to remain an active participant in the AAAP while I adjust to fatherhood, I’ve decided to pen a series of informative and educational notices about selected upcoming astronomical events. I call it “Sharing the Sky”, in line with my desire to share my love of celestial observation with others.

While the observatory doesn’t open until April – and even then, we’re at the mercy of fickle Friday weather – there’s still plenty to see in the skies above in the first three months of the new year. Many of these sights require you to get up before sunrise, and some require a low horizon, so consider sharing the sky (and your equipment!) with your fellow astronomers and guests at the Washington Crossing soccer fields.

January
The Quadrantids – Jan 3-4
The new moon of Christmas waxes, but the gibbous moon will set just after midnight on January 4th, leaving the sky much darker for observing the Quadrantids meteor shower. This shower is named for the now-defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis, “the wall-quadrant”. It was created by French astronomer Jérôme Lalande in 1795, who named it Le Mural; it represented the observing instrument known as the mural (that is, wall-mounted) quadrant, used by the likes of Edmond Halley and Tycho Brahe. In 1801, German astronomer Johann Elert Bode gave the constellation its Latin name and included it in his Uranographia star atlas, but the constellation was omitted in the official list of 88 constellations established in 1922 by the International Astronomical Union.

The stars of Quadrans Muralis, situated in between Ursa Major, Draco, Bootes, and Hercules, have been subsumed into Bootes. The radiant is located nearly at the circumpolar circle, around +50° dec., just north of the head of Bootes (Nekkar [β Boo]). The meteor shower is believed to originate from the remnants of comet C/1490 Y1, observed by Chinese, Japanese, and Korean astronomers in 1490; another possible source is the asteroid 2003 EH1, which might be related to the comet. The shower is very brief in duration, generally only five days, and its peak is short-lived, as little as eight hours. The radiant will be low in the northeastern sky at midnight on January 4th, and will climb toward the zenith over the next eight hours, although the encroaching dawn will make viewing difficult by 6 AM.

Taking the Bull by the Horns – Jan 7
As sunlight fades to the west, Taurus rises in the east, with a nearly-full Moon right between his horns. The glare from the waxing gibbous will drown out other nearby stars, but the red eye of the bull, Aldebaran, still gleams less than 3° away. Prime viewing starts around 6 PM, when the Moon and Aldebaran are about 40° north of the eastern horizon, and continues until moonset around 4 AM. The careful observer will detect the Moon drifting slowly eastward away from Aldebaran, while the whole sky spins to the west. (If you miss this close pass, it will repeat on February 3rd and on March 2nd.)

The red star gets its name from the Arabic al Dabarān, “the follower”, because it follows (rises after) the nearby cluster of the Pleiades. The star also appears to be the brightest member of the Hyades open cluster that makes up the bull’s head, but this is just a trick of the light: Aldebaran is about 65 light-years from Earth, and the Hyades cluster is another 90 light-years past it (making it the closest open cluster to our solar system).

Mars at War – Jan 18
The constellation Scorpius is generally associated with the summer months, when the pincers and stinging tail crest above the hazy southern horizon during the warm nights. But the front of half of the constellation can be glimpsed low in the southeast just before sunrise during January, and in particular the “heart” of the scorpion, the red giant Antares. This unmistakably red star earned its name by seeming to complete with another red “star”, a wandering star, the planet Mars. The Greek name for Mars is Ares, and the prefix anti- means “opposed to”, so Antares is Mars’ rival owing to its brilliant red color. Mars would lose this battle, if it ever occurred – Antares is large enough that if it were placed where our Sun is, it would swallow up the first four planets easily. Its massive size comes at a price: it has a much shorter lifespan than our gentle star. At 4.5 billion years old, the Sun is only middle-aged, while the 12 million year old Antares is only a few million years from a violent end.

On occasion, the planet and the star (a mere 4.5° south of the ecliptic) come awfully close to one another. They were tantalizingly close back on the evening of August 24th, 2016 (less than 2 degrees apart). In 2020, this meeting is less close (4.5°) and less convenient – you must brave cold January mornings to watch Mars creep closer to its rival, peaking around 6 AM on the 18th. A waning crescent moon in the vicinity on the 20th (possibly tinged orange by our atmosphere) completes the scene.

February
The Moon’s Superiority Complex – Feb 18-20
Our solar system is made up of “inferior” and “superior” planets: those whose orbits are inside ours are deemed inferior, and those whose orbits are outside ours are called superior. The three closest superior planets – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are visible to the naked eye, and in the early mornings of February they form a nearly straight line low in the southeastern sky. For three straight days, the Moon brushes shoulders with these three planets.

At 6 AM on the morning of the 18th, a thin crescent can be spotted about a Moon’s-width to the west of Mars. Observers west of the Mississippi would be able to watch at least some of the lunar occultation of Mars (when the Moon blocks Mars from view), but sunrise will hide that from New Jersey astronomers. An even thinner crescent can be seen 4° west of Jupiter at 6 AM on the 19th. The slightest crescent might be spotted only 2.5° southwest of Saturn on the 20th, but it will be tough: these two rise shortly before 5:30 AM, and are only about 7° above the horizon by 6 AM when the coming dawn begins to drown them out.

Growing Moon, Shrinking Venus – Feb 27
As February ends, a waxing crescent Moon appears about 6° from a waning gibbous Venus in the western sky after sunset, about 40° above the horizon around 6 PM, visible until they both set around 9 PM.

March
Martian Close Encounters – Mar 18-31
As spectacular as February’s conjunctions between the Moon and the superior planets were, March boasts even rarer views for the intrepid soul who can rise before dawn.

Over the past 30 days, Mars (for which this month is named) has inched closer to Jupiter. If you look to the east around 6 AM on March 18th, you will find a crescent Moon only 2.5° from Jupiter, with Mars half that distance from the gas giant. You can also spy Mercury “high” in the sky (around 7°) at 6:45 AM, before sunrise washes it out.

By the next morning the fading silver sliver has sped past Saturn into the faint constellation of Capricornus, but Mars goes on with the show. Before sunrise on the 20th, it’s less than 1° south of Jupiter, and as March ends, it approaches less than 1° south of Saturn.

As Far as the East is from the West – Mar 24
You have probably been noticing bright Venus in the sky after sunset since mid-December. If you’ve been an early riser, you may have been watching Mercury’s brief creep away from the overbearing Sun throughout March. Well, in just a 14-hour period, you can witness both Mercury at its greatest western elongation (about 28° from the Sun) before sunrise and Venus at its greatest eastern elongation (about 46° from the Sun) after sunset.

Unfortunately for Mercury, the days on Earth are getting longer, and so sunrise comes quickly. It will be difficult to spot this tiny, fast planet only a few degrees above the eastern horizon around 6 AM. Venus will be much easier to spot, over 30° above the western

Posted in January 2020, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Do the Dew

by Theodore R Frimet

the dragons breath

A few months ago I gave a partial reference to the oft-used phrase, “water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink”. (1) This Saturday morn, instead of watering at the mouth, and squabbling for scraps at Longshanks’ table, we focus on something more relevant. A topic that I am now comfortable writing about. I reach for the touchstone that is dew point and the glass oculus.

Little did I know that I built up a rune of a title (2), from the strong support and foundation of the “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – text of 1834, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) ?

I was at Washington Crossing Park, Jersey side, if you like, a few months ago. With another club Amateur, we spied the night sky. He turned to me, after dark, and became cautious as to when the aperture would cloud up with water. The ever, unpopular, “dewing up”.

I stood up to the task. Quickly. I quickly reviewed the projected humidity levels, forecasted the temperatures, and dew-points. Like my sentient Pennsylvania cousin, Punxsutawney Phil, I prognosticated. Absent a tolerance for more visceral scientific data on millibars, I turned to my fellow Amateur and naysayed, “no dew, tonight”.

Of course. Later on, it clouded in. It always clouds in. Puffy white, or streaking across the heavens, leaving no star in sight – the clouds are always both judge and jury.

Not tonight, though. The Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP), club and editors maintain on their website, a link to A. Danko’s Clear Sky Chart Home page.


Make more than a cursory check of the above Clear Sky Chart for AAAP. No clouds. We are clear of the white puffy lactation of nearby weather systems. Ahhh, clear skies indeed! However, as any burgeoning amateur might ask, “will it dew up my scope, tonight? Let’s find out, shall we?

The above data was extracted, this Saturday morning, at 10:26 AM (EST) for my home location in Croydon, Pennsylvania, from the iPhone application, Dark Sky. My close proximity to the observatory (28.2 miles), relatively speaking, makes the chart worth consideration. Your mileage may vary, of course, with time, distance, and how much you want to geek out, on meteorological data.

Our AAAP Observatory Chair, deserves the credit, in their recommendation of many applications to help us acquiesce to the night sky. One of those is Dark Sky. It is very popular with me. It is my daily helper on the road. It warns me of impending next hour precipitation, summaries, and Severe and Extreme alerts that are Government issued. The UV index is monitored, and assists in the health and welfare of pursuing my passion for solar observation. You can set notification for limits. Acquire Dark Sky, for a few shekels, here:

https://darksky.net/app

So, making the mad dash to the app, armed with my Saturday morning Joe, we peruse the data. Scan the dew points with me. It ranges from 22 F to 18 F. Now, scan the temperature. Note it starts at a toasty 40 F, and plummets to 24 F. All is well. The projected temperature never is lower than the dew point. Ah, then there’s that barometric reading and all that humidity!

In my own, humble opinion, since the barometer is holding steady, and the temperature never achieves dew point, lower pressures will not precipitate more liquid out of the sky. Our relationship to the dark will not be unbalanced. Our assessment is a, “no dew tonight” forecast.

What should really bake your noodle is all that RED on the Clear Sky Chart. From midnight till ‘morn, the humidity is listed as a mind boggling 85% to 90%. So, where your open aperture behemoth may not cloud in, the seeing, this evening, may not agree with all. “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”, indeed! With the extra moisture, lurking in the atmosphere, a light scattering affect will be the comeuppance of all amateurs that venture into the night.

Capped with the rise and fall of the Waxing Gibbous Moon, this will make it for an interesting experiment. We could wait for the New Moon of December 25th, however the fix is in. I am gathering up the courage, now, for the taming of the night sky. Tarps for telescope? Check. Cold weather jump-suit with hat? Check. Pocketed, convertible mittens. Check. Cold weather boots. Check. Priss, the cold weather cat. Missing.

Priss, it turns out, is not a feral cat. She was my rescue from over a year ago. After having a discourse with our local Veterinarian, I have decided to bring Priss in. She is our forever cat. Priss has joined the ranks of Big Pussycat (aka Maybelle) and Fritz the Cat (aka the killer of dobsonians). No doubt, Astro-Dog, our neighbors’ night time pundit pooch, will be yelping to keep the local wildlife at bay. Due to the shadow-tigress absence, the rustling of meandering mice, and somewhat larger orphanages will continue to be unabated.

What experiment? Jenny Jump has just recovered from tree clearing and snow plowing. Our Washington Crossing Park access is experiencing similar parks and recreation clearing. We then have no recourse than to venture into the backyard, this evening. Because, after all, seeing is believing.

Among the untrimmed verge, and disaster that is the light from my mother-in-laws window, we shall peek at the star show. Until the night sky shows us her glistening underbelly of dawn, all of us should be out, at the eyepiece. Let’s challenge the laws of nature, versus the scientific data that I have presented. Venture forth, and be not afraid to “do the dew”.

Permit me to make a courteous ending note. For the early stage learners of the craft that is Amateur Astronomy, breathe not onto the eyepiece. Without regard to cold temperatures, and barometric pressures, the dragons breath will cloud up your view. Blow onto it gently, and let it weep away the mist. Or you could invest in a $32 Balaclava. My son-in-law was quick to say that the vented holes always ice-up. Still, it sucks to be cold. So, please dress accordingly.

https://www.refrigiwear.com/product/ultra-clava-0098rblklxl

Tonight, tonight
The world is full of light
With suns and moons
all over the place
– Maria and Tony, West Side Story (1961 film)

References, last accessed Saturday, 10:30 AM EST, December 7, 2019
(1) https://princetonastronomy.wordpress.com/2019/06/02/water-water-everywhere/
(2) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43997/the-rime-of-the-ancient-mariner-text-of-1834

Epilogue

6:30 PM, eat dinner. 7-7:30 PM, watch some recorded Avengers movie. 7:30 – 8:00 PM – suit and greet the scope; already set up previously during daylight. Moon, moon…moon. Ok. Moon! Lovely. Learned a few things about the moon, this evening. I’ll tell you an observation story in just a few minutes.

With my new cold weather gear, and balaclava, I was all toasty warm. I was snug as a bug in a rug! I looked forward to passing many an hour with the lunar surface, before me. What I didn’t plan on was the moisture from each exhale turned into a vaporub cloud. I clouded up my eyepieces!

While waiting for the moisture to evaporate, I rotated between magnifications, and 2” and 1.25” barrels. All in an effort to keep a clear view. I had fun. I also learned how to breathe tonight. “Very important”, I thought to myself, “to try to minimize clouding up my lens”. Try to breathe, “down” was the lesson, and not “up” into the lens. Sigh. Lesson learned.

After mastering the breathing exercise, I noticed something unusual. There appeared in my line of sight, in the eyepiece to be precise, a be a bit of meteorological mystery forming up. Yes. Right before my eyes was a little cloud, circling about. I checked my balaclava. No, I was the master of the mist.

I looked up directly at the moon. I saw a distant veiled ring, hung around her lunar majesty. It was something I expected, considering the excess of humidity predicted at 85 – 90%. Maybe the cloud was forming within my dew shield? I got off my seat, stood up, and took a look into the aperture. A little dusty, perhaps, yet no clouding in. Then I looked up into the night sky.

Yes. Every experimental data set deserves an actual, dyed in the wool, eyes on physical experience. Here I was. Looking up into the night sky. Clouds had formed. Somewhere, between my coffee break and 9:10 PM (there-a-bouts), there was a gravity wave that snuck into my visual horizon. With it, came a barometric depression which changed the forecast. I was clouded in.

Disassemble, and put in the shipping plug for the diagonal mirror. Cap the aperture end. Put away the Telrad finder. Out with the Telegizmos aluminized cover, and sack the telescope for the evening.

Dark Sky app reads, NOW: Clear, and 29 degrees. My visual observations tells me something different.

Ok. You all were good this evening. Here is our evening observation:

On the moons largest lava field, or mare, there is a prominent impact crater. Yet the star lines – the lines of bright lunar dust sprayed upon its surface, is not at all straight. In some areas, it appears to have been curved, as if dragged by a current of water. And then it hits you. The mare was turned to a semi-solid upon an impact, and the brighter moon-rock, turned outward onto the surface, engaged waves of liquid mare. Which soon solidified and left its mark upon the lunar surface. Good bedtime story. Pleasant dreams.

Posted in January 2020, Sidereal Times | Tagged | Leave a comment

Lead, Follow, or Color me.

by Theodore R Frimet

do crayons come in low albedo?

Dear Mr. Elon Musk,

As there is no doubt that you are very tired. I will put my bottom line up front.

Please contact a local Coating provider.

Elon Musk, if you like, please continue to read. It isn’t necessary, as you probably have ascertained the why and how, of the above.

Sincerely,
Ted Frimet

A few years back, well perhaps many years back, I used to walk thru the streets of where I was employed. It was a manufacturing sector. The exercise did me good.

There was always this smell in the air. It wasn’t a bad smell, per se. It was pleasant. It greeted me like an old friend, every time I took to the walk-about.

Then I took notice of where this fragrant communique came from. It was, of course, a local business. This is not one that you would ordinarily notice, even by chance. It was a manufacturer of food flavorings.

I ascertained that they produced intense flavorings for the food industry. Truly, that wasn’t too hard. I had stopped by, one day, and inquired within. They were friendly, and informative. I moved on.

A few months later, Janet and I were shopping for the Holiday. I had wrangled in my diet, and became more aware of what I was putting into my body. I became acutely aware of MSG, and foods that underwent flavor enhancing processes. I almost never purchase foods that have flavor enhancing derivatives. At least the ones I knew that were excitotoxins. I mean, truly, it’s not rocket science to become aware that MSG was used in the laboratory to burn out optic nerves! This is not your parents ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS) concept. For that matter, without discarding the fact that salt can be harmful (to most), salt remains GRAS, by federal standards. Knowing this, it’s every man, woman and child, for himself!

There, on the shelf, was a family favorite of mine. A brand name Matzo Meal. Back then, it had an ingredient(s) that I had become intimately familiar with. I wrote the owner of this brand name family, and inquired about their flavor enhancer. My memory, of course as all of you know, is fractured. Please take the following with a grain of salt: “they had no alternative flavorings”.

I remembered my flavor manufacturer. I stopped by, a few days later, and made an inquire if there were alternatives to MSG, and similar enhancers. They replied that there were. I asked if I could refer a favorite family owned matzo meal company of mine, and ask if they would respond in kind, to their inquiry, if only as an agency. They agreed.

I never stopped by the manufacturing site, again. I miss those walks. Yet companies come and go, and by then it was time for me to relocate to another facility. Eventually, I was even looking for a new source of employment. But I digress. I always seem to stray when I walk or write.

I don’t recall phoning, writing or emailing my favorite Matzo meal producer again. I must have. Pretty certain that I would have at least had the courtesy of thanking them, from our family to theirs on the accomplishment of food standards leadership. They reformulated. No MSG.

We continue to patronize our favorite family owned matzo making business!

More than 30 years have passed us by, after moving into Bucks County, Pennsylvania. You do your shopping. Pay your taxes. Vote. Drop off the mail. Yes. Drop off the mail.

I had recently sold my dobsonian, and have since, week by week, been parsing out dob accessories on eBay. The entire package would not sell at my price point. So I sold the dob “OTA” style, including the lazy Susan. I guess that’s not too much OTA – since the tube and stand were included. However I think you get the point. The lower price was more enticing than packaged goods that a potential bidder might want to do without. And selling the remaining items separately, turns out to be a pretty inviting deal for those that want to bid on one separate item.

Today. I dropped off mail. In the package was a nice piece of dob accessory I had sold over the weekend. I pride myself on making sure I can mail, by next day. Today was that day. I could have mailed it at the satellite USPS location. They move their product, by end of day, to another facility. I didn’t want my buyer to wait, a potential added day. So, I took the road less traveled. And went to the regional post office. I passed a sign on the way.

I concluded my drop off at the Post Office and started on my way back home. I remembered a sign. It was reflectively lettered. Quite a sign. Nice. Easy to remember. I thought, “how did I not see that sign in the past few decades?”. After all, this wasn’t my first trip to the post office. Fractured memory (FM). FM will be my contribution to the American Lexicon. Look for it in the next issue of anyone’s dictionary.

I saw the sign on my way home. Nice sign. I remember seeing it on the way in. Then, in a flash, I remembered the petition I signed. And I recalled the email I sent Elon Musk, ℅ the Tesla Investors email web portal.

Anyone who has seen Elon in the media, knows how hard he and his Company works. Yes, probably will be the first to Mars. Almost most certainly will get Astronomy gear positioned on the far side of the Moon. If history is any predictor of scope placement, we can bet even money on his Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle – the Falcon Heavy – to assist in positioning Astronomical gear at Lagrange points 4 or 5.

The sign. Oh yeah. Back to the signage. Before I signed the petition, I wrote Elon asking him to reduce the albedo of his constellations of satellites. Quoting me below, I wrote, “Before I sign a petition, in regards to Starlink, I would want to seek your company’s resolve in coating future space orbiting vehicles with low, or non-reflective coatings, all in an effort to reduce their albedo.” There’s your sign. It reminded me to research a coating company for Mr. Musk.

I traveled slowly, today. The ground was wet from a recent light snow. We expect about an inch. Probably more. Not much more, though. I got about a quarter of a mile, when I decided to turn around.

It was the result of an inner conversation. Elon might agree to reduce the albedo of the Starlink enterprise. That would require a coating. If I turn around now, and decide to knock at the door, who will answer? Well, my Matzo meal manufacturer took out the MSG, didn’t they? I pushed the door open, and entered my newest manufacturer.

I entered, and waited my turn. The receptionist greeted me. I explained my conundrum. All was absorbed except for the technical nature of what to expect from coatings that would be exposed to the hostile vacuum of space. In retrospect, I should have avoided any conversation that expressly mentioned Cosmic Radiation. I am pretty sure I didn’t mention highly energized particles, or even blaspheme with the utterance of gamma ray bursts. I do recall I talked briefly about Ultra Violet radiation, though. That ended well. I left with a business card in hand. I expressed my concern that if Elon called them – to rest assured it wasn’t a hoax.

Elon Musk, when you decide on a color, please know I prefer ANY color, as long as it is low albedo, or non-reflective.

Sincerely Yours,
Ted Frimet

Here is the email sent, the previous day. I am including it in this month’s essay for reference:

Dear Mr. Musk,

First off, thank you. There are, or perhaps there is no other person other than yourself, that brings light to where there is darkness. You work hard, provide incentives and work for many, and in my own humble opinion, are due the respect and courtesy of every human being on planet Earth.

Before I sign a petition, in regards to Starlink, I would want to seek your company’s resolve in coating future space orbiting vehicles with low, or non-reflective coatings, all in an effort to reduce their albedo.

Unfortunately, the petition is mute on what will, or to whom the petition will be delivered. So I believe it was incumbent upon myself to reach out to you, this Sunday evening, and be instructive in a most freshman sort of way.

If you would like to read more, about my intent, I believe the below link would do justice as to my own, ownership of the night sky.

Clear Skies,
Ted Frimet

On the matter of Planetary Protection, long since past, you were mentioned in the below article of mine:
https://princetonastronomy.wordpress.com/2018/10/03/planetary-protection/

And here is the link, to Thunderbird and the Seven Girls:
https://princetonastronomy.wordpress.com/2018/06/02/thunderbird-and-the-seven-girls/

Posted in January 2020, Sidereal Times | Tagged | Leave a comment

Let’s go out on a limb

by Theodore R Frimet

and try not to hang ourselves with the truth


Space Force. Federal Employees get paid leave. Compromise. Whatever. Don’t attribute any of this to the current administration. We are ready to hand them their hats.

Let’s gain some perspective. National momentum provides a means and way of advancing space exploration. Another military branch development, specializing in space, appears to bear the weight of truth, if not a fact of necessity.

Consider the hundreds of thousands of orbiting space junk. One small, tidbit size piece, accelerated to faster than your fathers old jalopy, can bring death and destruction to an orbiting habitat. Toss the baby out with the bathwater, when these nondescript missiles cripple a multi-million dollars orbiting communication array.

While 500,000 pieces of debris are marble size or larger, there are millions of pieces of debris that cannot be tracked. (NASA – 2013). We find on Wiki (last accessed December 7, 2019), that as of January 2019, more than 128 million bits of debris. Debris amounts can be exponentially created, by design or by accident.

The Kessler syndrome was partially idealized by the movie industry, in Gravity (2013 Film). “Big sky – Little bullet” catastrophes such as this are a deliverable to be managed by a separate arm of the United States Military. And in my own humble opinion, I place this out of the budgetary constraints imposed upon NASA.

There is an associated billion plus in costs, not to mention, $10 million to $400 million to launch a single satellite. We have something concrete to measure against, for the outlay of budget for a separate arm of the service. No other service need now be concerned with their budget, while Space Force is busy taking out nuts and bolts from low Earth orbit.

And yes. Federal Employees will get paid leave. All things considered, the dog wags the tail.

afterward or epilogue?

you decide.

Imagine rethinking our power grid, and national infrastructure and bringing it into alignment with the needs of a modern, post-industrial, information centric society?

We could invest trillion$ from the upper 1% non-tax paying base, and have access to clean water, air, and non-contaminated food, all the while no longer paying lip service to the rising flood of attention that global warming requires.

If anyone thinks this off-topic, think again. Satellite imaging and intelligence systems, all the while, look down and provide the necessary measurements that dictate policy. That is, if policy makers pay attention, read, and act on the science that is available, each and every day.

Posted in January 2020, Sidereal Times | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sol Survivor

by Theodore R. Frimet

two cats enter. one cat leaves.

It’s late Sunday afternoon, the 22nd of December. I am still recovering from 6 hours of evening observations at AAAP Washington Crossing Park observatory. I don’t frequent there as much as I could. Clearly when we arrive at our New Years’, my resolution will be to make more observations, including astro-videography. Our AAAP club sustains me. They provide the nourishment for all Amateur Astronomers.

Two cats enter. One cat leaves. Two cats enter. One cat leaves. Two cats enter, one human leaves. I didn’t see that coming! Cats dominating the homestead, and kicking the human to the curb. Might make a run for it, while I can? Fritz the destroyer is up in his room, while the two dominatrix wait patiently for attention. Both stoically sitting back-to-back, in a more or less random assignment on the time line. Priss decides to leave. I pick up Big-Pussycat, as Fritz and Priss have clearly abdicated their role as Sol-survivor.

Big Pussycat and I look out of the sliding glass door. Door closed, of course. Last night was brutal in the 20’s and this afternoon shall not be a reprise. The sun appears to set, just at the tipping point below someones outside garage. Of course this is an illusion. The sun never sets, does it? It is more or less understood that the Earth rotates about its axis. It gives the illusion that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Big Pussycat purrs on.

I nudge her gently, bringing my chin to nestle about her whiskers. I explain that the glory of the sun that she basks in, provides warmth. Her feline stare suggests otherwise, that it provides Energy. Sol never was that great provider. Here on Earth, and elsewhere, Nature requires many an element to create and sustain life. We have encountered many AstroPhysical moieties that give provision to Life’s Genesis. Today’s number one hit is the front page news of impending Super Novae. Yes, it is those prominent colossus’ that are the requiem of matter sustaining life.

It’s a great private email feed to read and listen in on UACNJ comments. Not to be undone by the history of the time line, we take notice of an alarm! Betelgeuse has dimmed. Well, the red giant found in the Orion Constellation is variable. That is it increases and decreases in luminosity according to its own timetable. This recent dimming is special. It is the preamble to a Nova. The likes, in my own humble opinion, that hasn’t been seen since two thousand Christmas’ ago.

I usually recall my dreams. Perhaps that is because my last stage REM occurs before I wake up for work. I have an uncanny ability to recall my dreams in detail. Yet, armed with the knowledge that most accessed memory is friable; who is to say that I just conjured up the whole imagery? Yet, here I am. Stuck with the knowledge that in one dreamscape, long ago, I recall seeing stars fleeing from the direction of Orion. Wait a minute. That animation is from a movie preamble. And it is copyright! I hope no-one speaks to a lawyer about rights infringement. I’d have to pay every time I have a Cosmological night time event!

I wake up, and nudge the cat once more. I tell her that very soon, in a cosmological time period, that Betelgeuse will slam dunk space-time. The great wave will compress matter and awaken new star formation and birth life anew. The matter that she will spew forth will form the basis of inner planets waiting to coalesce. On her time-scale, those planets will heave and hew until reasonably intelligent life takes hold. Maybe then, we can have a cogent conversation. Big Pussycat meows back. Eyes wide shut. Tail wags. Human leaves the stage. Big Pussycat wants to remind all of her readership that the Red Giants Nova may not take place for another one thousand years. Or maybe next Tuesday. The odds are better, she says, than winning a Regional Lottery.

Roof half open. Handle comes off. Make frantic phone calls. Get superb responses. All post-haste as the handle was reattached, with a little elbow grease, and some common sense. Roof securely open now, and I’m snug as a bug in a rug.

I am early to the observatory. The sun hasn’t even set yet. We open the observatory, and cool down the mirror. Seat. Coffee. Wait. Darkness descends. A star is born of the night sky.

Is that Taurus? Could it be a red star? No, it’s white. Castor is bright. Is it Aldebaran? That one was my friends favorite! Ah, it is Capella. I knew it. Capella was one of the brightest stars, a few out-reaches ago, in a Church parking lot. Due to security lighting, Capella was one of the few stars available to ogle at.

This time of year, Capella is taught to the amateur to be a “guide star”. Find Capella, and you can star hop! This is tough love, though. When there are clouds, and only one star, it becomes a guessing game. We guessed correctly. There’s an app for that.

I relax back in my seat, and await the star show. I casually look up. There I see an array of a neatly formed great square. Oh my gosh! The Great Square of Pegasus. More clouds part. The white wisps dissipate as if on command. More starlight shows the greater portion of those defined by Constellation Pegasus. This is going to be a good evening. My app was right. It will be clear skies, dominated by no moon, at all.

I was going to visit the numerous glowing bodies that appear in the vicinity of the Constellation Cassiopeia. It was mentioned to me, by a committee chair, long ago. I listened then, only to find the courage to come out, and do the astronomy by myself more than a year later. We are in the moment, and the moment is now. It took a right turn due to lesser luminous magnitudes competing for the night light pollution. Change in plans. Look for Andromeda.

Our sister spiral galaxy fills my 32mm 82 degree Explore Scientific (ES) eyepiece. Yet there is no detail I can discern. No structure, at all. I wonder as I gaze at her, if I needed more time to accede to the dimming of the night. No, I said. It isn’t dark enough here, at Washington Crossing Park. I would need to move my kit and caboodle to Jenny Jump State Park, at UACNJ. There, a year back, and in the September-November time frame, I spied not only the structure of this spiral; I beheld the two minor Messier objects that frame her vicinity. However, Andromeda was not my goal, this evening. I changed up to higher magnification, and then dropped back down to 24 mm. I got a good eye-full.

Desperately seeking another galaxy, I crossed the river Jordan. I stood the test of time as I learned advanced functions of TheSkyX software. It paired well with my arbitrary and desperate search for galaxies. I stumbled upon M77, a barred spiral galaxy.

This evening I start up my favorite home based Astronomy solution, Stellarium. I key in “M77” in the search bar. My screen lights up with familiar objects. Aldebaran, we briefly met earlier. Pleiades, aka the Seven Sisters – Subaru. I read off the technical detail that M77 has a magnitude of 8.87, and is reduced to 9.11 by our air mass. Given that the humidity level at achieved peak levels in excess of 85 percent, hindsight now tells me why I had trouble finding faint fuzzies last evening.

Cetus A was difficult to view. Despite the occasional visit to the computer monitor, my night vision had not been compromised. I had learned, long ago, to keep one eye shut. I decided that any magnitude of 8.9 or lesser (higher luminosity) would be my goal for the night. I wanted more. I was stubborn. The night sky, like deer in the forest, only present themselves when the confidence of the hunter has been won.

I keyed in advanced searches for galaxies in the few constellations that met my fancy. I augmented the search for lower magnitudes. Nothing returned other than M33. I could not get a fix on that Triangulum Galaxy. Perhaps this Pinwheel Galaxy is a non-visual emitter of light? Oh woe is to me!

I went to the task of resetting my query, and extended it to the realm of Globular Clusters. None. However there were a plethora of Open Clusters to be seen this evening. I looked at one, and was non-plussed. Despite there being a hot red star in the mix, I didn’t have it in me. I wanted closed clusters, or bright nebulae to be sure! Nothing else would do. And then I saw Uranus in the mix. It was 8:43 PM, and I had a 6.7mm 82 degree ES waiting for the planetary view. I remembered that it is colorful. A gray, pale-blue color – a vestigial reminder that Methane makes up her outer skirt.

I turned my attention onto Uranus. It was my first solo flight at the observatory for a planetary view. Three years earlier, I had found Uranus from my backyard. That was before the verge had overgrown. Here I was. Planet in sight. 32mm, 24mm, 14mm, 11mm, 6.7mm – lost detail. Here, tonight, there was nothing to be gained by over amplifying the visual. I put the 24mm back in, and set for a spell.

Knock Knock. Who’s there? Thump in the distance. The sound gets closer. The next song that plays over the clubs radio is Christmas music.

“He sees you when you’re sleeping”
“He knows when you’re awake”

This is the makings of a bad “B-movie”, when the lone Astronomer gets heisted by a tree dwelling elf. Ok. I watered that down a bit. I didn’t want you to get the willies and have bad dreams. I turned off the radio. Not a good idea. I focused on the silence.

By now it was getting past 10 PM, and I felt it was good goings to park the scope, and start packing it in. I had a few fences that I needed to hurdle, and Rudolf was on my tail this evening. I managed to shake off the elf, in exchange for holiday reindeer.

Roof closed. All secure. I’m on the road and make the nightly call to Janet. I’m on my way. “Home by mid-night?”, she asked. Why, no. I’m on I95 in Pennsylvania. “Oh, I thought you went to Jenny Jump”.

A moment of silence took to pause. I paid my dues, and found my guide star. The heavens rewarded me with an overhead, front row view to Pegasus. I rediscovered a bar galaxy, and remembered how to properly pronounce, Uranus. “Yes, I’ll be home in time for the holidays”.

The bane of your existence
shall be the ones that you love.

If god were my copilot
God would be laughing at me.

Happy Hannukah.

Posted in January 2020, Sidereal Times | Tagged | Leave a comment

Snippets

compiled by Arlene & David Kaplan

-BBC

The best space images of 2019
With some blockbuster space missions under way, 2019 saw some amazing images beamed back to Earth from around the Solar System. Meanwhile, some of our most powerful telescopes were trained on the Universe’s most fascinating targets. Here are a few of the best…more

space.com

The Biggest Black Hole Findings of 2019
Black holes are dark spots in the fabric of space-time, incredibly dense singularities with such strong gravity that nothing can escape their clutches. They spend their time doing one thing: gobbling up matter…more

-BBC

Distant star’s vision of our Sun’s future ‘death’
A newly discovered planet offers new insights into the Solar System after the Sun reaches the end of its life in 5-6 billion years. Astronomers observed a giant planet orbiting a white dwarf, the small, dense objects some stars become once they have exhausted their nuclear fuel…more

-BBC

Mars rover aims to grab a piece of history
British engineers have begun testing technologies that will be needed to bring samples of Martian rock to Earth. The Airbus team is training a prototype rover to recognize and pick up small cylinders off the ground…more

-BBC

Satellite constellations
Astronomers are warning that their view of the Universe could be under threat. From next week, a campaign to launch thousands of new satellites will begin in earnest, offering high-speed internet access from space. But the first fleets of these spacecraft, which have already been sent into orbit by US company SpaceX…more

-BBC

SpaceX satellites spotted over Derbyshire
Stargazers across Derbyshire were startled when they saw what appeared to be a new “constellation” in the night sky. The near-perfect line was in fact formed by the Starlink, satellites launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company earlier this year. They were spotted across Derbyshire and the Peak District…more

-SpaceX

Evolution of SpaceX’s Rockets
SpaceX began in 2002, when its founder, Elon Musk, took the first steps in his grand ambition to send a mission to Mars. More than 15 years later, the company is way beyond the space startup stage. The Hawthorne, California-based company regularly reuses rockets, sends cargo missions to the International Space Station…more

-space.com

Best Night Sky Events of January 2020
See what’s up in the night sky for January 2020, including stargazing events and the moon’s phases, in this Space.com gallery courtesy of Starry Night Software…more

Posted in January 2020, Sidereal Times | Tagged | Leave a comment